Becoming the Jack of All Trades, Master of None

I’m thinking this draft is too vague and not concise enough. I’m not sure if my opinion is stated clearly. I need to quote Simpson more, and clearly state whether I support, refute, or modify her claim that multitasking inhibits concentration and detracts from effective communication.

Becoming the Jack of All Trades, Master of None:

Responding to the Unquestioned Demands of Multitasking
Rough Draft

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            At the turn of the twentieth century information consumption hit an all time high. Managing all the information required new methods of organization and processing. Technology quickly came to our defense and created new ways of its gathering and dissemination.  Mankind is now ingesting more information and juggling more tasks than ever before. As we incorporate more and more technologies that aim to improve our efficiency and effectiveness, the question remains if multitasking truly contains detrimental tradeoffs worth exploring. There is a poignant expression that describes the nature of those who specialize in multi-tasking: “Jack of all trades, master of none.”

            As the industrial era gave way to the information era, technological advances produced computers that allowed businesses and people to tackle more tasks with greater efficiency resulting in an influx of knowledge. The internet presented itself as the perfect catalyst that spurred the flow and exchange of this knowledge. As the need to harness and organize this information became a priority, the demand for people to make sense of it all gave rise, resulting in the emergence of analytic thinkers: engineers, computer scientists, lawyers, investment bankers, accountants, and MBA’s. A generation was born into a world where crunching numbers and juggling tasks was prized and rewarded. Acing standardized tests and performing in rigid curriculums meant to regurgitate knowledge has been the benchmark for success. In the process, it seems, the need for deep, creative thought has been overlooked.

            Mainstream society is currently a single interconnected whole where the populous is integral in dictating current trends through its contributions. People are required to share themselves, their opinions and their interests with the world, be it through their cell-phones, Facebook, twitter, or other technology.  The resulting trend is a society constantly being pulled in all sorts of directions as their attention remains commanded by the whole.

            Joanne Simpson is an excellent observer of the multi tasking phenomenon. As a professor, she has a front seat in witnessing the effect of a culture constantly demanding the attention of the developing youth. In her essay Multitasking State of Mind Simpson illustrates her experiences as an educator dealing with a generation of mentally taxed students raised in a world that expects interconnectedness and constant communication.

            Because technology has allowed people to manipulate information and knowledge with lightning speed, people openly adopt its presence in their life and give little thought to the accompanying tradeoffs. Simpson believes people have gotten carried away with all the positive aspects of being able to manipulate this information. While technology allows us to do more with the time we have, instead of freeing up our thoughts and free time, we become entrenched in even more tasks. It is clear that people in our culture are packing more and more into their daily lives as technology helps them manage the flood of information and activities. PDA’s, smart phones, and laptops allow for ultimate organization and even allow for work on the go.

            Simpson reminisces to her experiences prior to the tremendous technological boom when people’s lives were slower, more thoughtful and directed. “As I remember it, I still paid attention to one thing at a time” she recalls.  As tasks were allotted to specific portions of time, thoughts were more continuous and distractions were numbered. Nowadays, people manage to accomplish inhuman amounts in a single day. When Simpson polled her classroom at to whether they do several things at once, every students hand was raised. Watching television and listening to an IPOD while doing homework are almost an expected part of studying.

            With technologies help, people are expected to produce the same quality of work in half the time. Despite the efficiency of doing more, the depth of thought required for these tasks remained the same. An example is writing papers. Once an arduous process of continuous writes and rewrites, accompanied with countless edits and proofs, computer word processers gave people the ability to type at lightning speed, and leave the majority of editing, punctuation, and spelling, to the computer while still producing relatively high quality work. When this level of performance is achieved, it is demanded everywhere. Soon the act of writing becomes a single task instead of a process. When this happens form is left unrefined and content is sacrificed.

            Consider the process of research writing. Before computers and databases, hours were spent in the library burning the midnight oil, flipping through pages, hand writing notes and bookmarking pages. Compiling the information was an even greater task. Academics were all too familiar with the discipline and focus required for a typical research paper that required twenty four hours of effort.

            Today students are able to jump on a database, read article summaries with lightning speed, bounce from web page to web page, refer to citation machines, and use the ctrl+F function to find their information with minimal effort. The compilation of this information is just as quick.

            What we are seeing with the adaptation of technology is a decline in sustained effort towards given tasks. Quality ideas and work are a culmination of focus, concentration, reflection, and continued applied effort. Jumping from task to task, aside from the time lost in transition, doesn’t allow the mind enough time to familiarize itself with concepts and understandings. The superficial level of thought allotted to ideas consequently jeopardizes the student’s ability to articulate these ideas. Simpson is not amiss when she notices students coming to class in dazed and distracted states. When they step into her classroom they enter a place very different from their connected world; their attention is demanded everywhere as they juggle multiple priorities simultaneously.  The classroom is a place where prolonged attention is required to hash out the idiosyncrasies of an idea.

            While Simpson presents a persuasive case for multitasking’s detrimental effect on concentration, and its translation to poor communication, there is an unspoken standard of normalcy that her essays infer. Simpson claims that multitasking has left students more distracted and less able to concentrate. She spoke of Multitasking as an anti-Zen and describes how really living involves concentration. I would argue that Simpson is taking a conservative and bias approach to these changes in our society. Multitasking is a result of our adaptation to changing demands.  She outlined the negative effects she witnessed as a professor, but failed to mention how multitasking has contributed to the overall productivity and efficiency of work. The very e-mail she uses to illustrate a student’s ineffective communication skills provided a clear example of how technology has opened the lines and eased communication with her and her students.

            Perhaps the sheer ease of communicating and being connected has caused people to overlook quality. E-mails, texts, status updates and posts are sent by the dozens. The sheer volume messages sent daily may have people overlooking the quality of messages they send, not because they can’t send quality messages, but because being efficient is a greater priority. When hand written letters were the norm for communicating, much time was spent during the writing process to ensure effective communication because few letters, by today’s standards, were sent out.

            Its possible that Simpson has it all wrong and that the academic setting is the real problem. Perhaps its rigid, inflexible constructs don’t allow students to synthesize the volume of knowledge that they normally do. Perhaps students are bored and not stimulated.

            Simpson states that “really living and connecting with people—requires concentration, not distraction”. It sounds as if Simpson believes that ‘connecting with people’ is something that happens one person at a time. In our generation, information is prized. The thoughts and ideas we seek are gleaned from volumes of people. No longer is one person enough to qualify an experience or an idea. This generation seeks to understand and contribute to the consensual understanding of people. We ensure sound scientific literature through peer reviewed studies, vote for our American Idol contestant, give five stars to YouTube videos, and contribute to open forum discussions to share expertise and knowledge. If our aim is to seek and verify truth and knowledge as a people, than connecting with the population is what matters most. Not, as Simpson believes, one person at a time.

Multitasking State of Mind: Technology and its affects

A journal response/rant to an essay by Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson titled Multitaskinbg State of Mind

I agree with Simpson. These are not new thoughts. I feel more disconnected with the world now more than ever. I feel like a puppet master that articulates gestures to the world through mediums apart from me. I can tweak these gestures and reveal carefully chosen facades to the world.

I am exhausted, no doubt about it. I come to class in a stupor. My mind is in distant lands. It’s not whole, that’s for sure. When I say whole, I’m referring to a mind that’s all together at one place at a time. Instead my thoughts drift in all sorts of directions, leaving me spacey and unenthused. Why unenthused? My ability to conjure passion for a subject and the idiosyncrasies it posses are virtually nonexistent. Let me tell you, it is a daily struggle to pry myself from the grips of the web. I can watch my mental state degenerate as I log in time on the computer. At the beginning of the day I find myself refreshed. I usually stay away from the net as long as possible… but once I’m there… it begins. My mind, its quiet thoughts that usually dwell on solving important priorities in my life, are off tending to random information consumed through news feeds. The news itself is usually enlightening… for a moment. Once I bring in new enlightening information it flees and usually never returns. I never have an opportunity to synthesize it, make sense of it. I’m constantly barraging myself with multisensory distractions.

The shame in all this is that I was raised in a family that shunned electronic devices. No cable TV, 30 minutes a day on the internet. When I was living at home I had to make fun. It was great. Today, and when I say today I’m referring to my life at college, I am a pathetic party pooper. I didn’t start off this way. Oh no. Upon prepping for college I was a voracious reader, pumping out four books a month the year prior to landmark. I would write in my journal for hours at a time. I was motivated and focused. I taught myself coping mechanisms that I could bring to landmark. That was before the laptop came into my life. Once this happened, and I was very conscious of it the moment it entered, I lost all self control. It was a slow loss of control at first. It came with justifying my internet and web surfing usage bit by bit. Hey, everyone’s doing it. All the cool links that fill up you inbox from your friends. I felt like I was missing out.

I remember restraining myself from using the net. Turning off the wireless function, limiting myself to ONLY school related programs and sites. Bit by bit however I found myself delving into the horrific world of instant gratification. Stimulus and reward had crept into my life. It is a horrifying realization of course. At this point I’m graduating… and I am absolutely, 100% full of CONTEMPT for technology. It has ruined my ‘chi’. It has destroyed my spiritual peace of mind. I am no longer in the present, aware, and disciplined. I have been infected by a virus that seeks only new information… whatever interests me and rewards these impulses. My mind seeks these out and grows wary in most other stimulus inquiries. I say it’s a virus because it has grown worse and worse, almost ravaging me, and now I can say I am a participant that drags other fresh untainted minds into the realm of stimulus/ information consumption.

I HAVE tried ridding myself of this virus. I have planned and allotted time for quality reading and thinking. I do journal. I do seek peace on walks and reflections on nature. But, alas, I find myself in front of the computer at the end of the day, checking emails, and there they are- more distractions, links and stimulus. I hate it. Nay, I loath it.

As some one with ADHD… I NEED control. I CRAVE it. I have accepted that I cannot necessarily control the way I learn, so I adapt and learn to control other factors. I create novel ways with learning. I choose my environments wisely. These actions offer me a control to work around myself. But nowadays, in my current state, I feel helpless. Out of control. My mind wanders to the technology and it it’s robbed and abused. The satisfaction is so temporary that it genuinely leaves me with no lasting feelings. I must feed off it.

The concentration element is another story. My concentration has been so corrupted that even my desire and goal to achieve meaningful tasks has grown into a heaping obstacle. This actually coincides with the communication aspect. Because my concentration has been so abused, my ability to initiate meaningful conversations has dwindled. How? People, unlike the web pages and images that plaster the internet landscape, have depth. This depth needs to be explored… and people do NOT readily present this information. Nope. You are required as a human people, to become genuinely interested and do some work at finding it. Digging it out. Communicating requires a certain level of interest where digging into that depth is achieved. In this way a connection can occur. Problem is, people don’t have links covering their body. They don’t advertise the interesting stuff. It’s buried deep within them. To get it out, you must seek, dig, and poke around. You must concentrate, use some working memory, make connections and discover them.

ALAS, people in this era have lost the patience for such an art. Book reading is the same way. Books are long, with complex plots. They require an interest and concentration that allows you to dig up and make associations. Articles on the web, short summaries, twitters, wall posts and status updates hardly required this level of though. It goes in and just as fast as it goes it, it leaves.

So, would I agree with Simpson? Hell yes. She is on the money.

Do I think this multitasking trend is a good thing? Nope.  But I could argue the other way as well. In terms of health, absolutely not. In terms of adapting to the cultural trends, of course it’s a good thing. How would you survive in today’s fast paced, information crunching culture?!

But our minds, bodies and spirits have not evolved with these trends. We need quiet contemplation. It rocks my world this non-stop stimulation. It’s not even physically taxing. Simply mundane. It adds no REAL value to my life. Networking online with other virtually faceless profiles is an unfulfilling practice. We are only furthering a narcissistic urge to advertise our uniqueness to the populace. LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ALL THE FUN I HAVE! MY COOL QUOTES! MY AWESOME PICTURES! LOOK WHAT IT CONNOTES! DENOTES!

The truth is… it is not bringing us closer to our goals… UNLESS that goal is to flatter ourselves. Swear to God. What the hell are these networking sites for anyway? To get ourselves out to the world!?? ‘Look at me!’ we say with our profiles, ‘I am special and unique and bring value!’ The HUGE problem is, I find that most people, including myself, put MORE time into the networking aspect, than to the value they are trying to project.

How a person spends every second of their day defines who they are. If we got real with ourselves, we’d realize we spend diddly-squat time reading and doing the things we advertise as our passions when we COMPARE the time we spend on technology. Compare the time people spend leisurely listening on their IPODS to music to actually making music. Or the people who browse art ALL day long on the internet, but how many hours a day do they spend painting? COUNTLESS other examples…

I can’t imagine all the damage we’re doing to ourselves.

In the end its all about perspective. I’m not really convinced this technology revolution will aid in the overall health of those involved. I believe in simplicity. Mathematics, physics, and all other great sciences, depend on simplicity. I believe, in our life, we need it. A life with focus is a life with direction. What focus can people say they have? Perhaps this whole trend of multitasking is a focus itself…

********

(I wrote this personal journal entry in January as a natural response to my own ruminations about the effects of the internet:

I’ve been wrestling lately. With thoughts. I’m wondering if the Internet is a bad or good thing. Most of my free time is spent reading blogs, e-mailing, watching videos, reading the news, checking updates or just plain surfing. I find that traditional reading has become more of a chore than it used to be.

It’s sad to think that’d I’d prefer to e-mail or message someone instead of call them on the phone. Catching up is done online. Catching up and conversing over a cup of coffee is almost unnecessary. I almost need something to do, like an activity or event to make our time a worthwhile experience. It seems like a waste of time when it’s all been said. After all the updates are read and all the blogs are perused, what else is there?

This is not a new thought or debate by any means. I feel that as much as this technology has made it easier and brought us together, I feel that we’re grown more alienated and impersonal than ever before. Even now I express these thoughts electronically, publicly.

I have a hard time remembering when certain people really knew me. When our relationship was something special and unique. That only a handful of people had the opportunity of knowing my day to day thoughts. I’ve become so transparent I feel lost. Where is the fidelity of a deep friendship?

Maybe this is a temporary feeling. I don’t know. I suppose I’m speaking to a very niche crowd. I know there are many nonconformists who live free of the networking hassle.

 

**********

Multitasking State of Mind: Technology and its Effects

A journal response/rant to an essay by Joanne Cavanaugh Simpson titled Multitasking State of Mind

I agree with Simpson. These are not new thoughts. I feel more disconnected with the world now more than ever. I feel like a puppet master that articulates gestures to the world through mediums apart from me. I can tweak these gestures and reveal carefully chosen facades to the world.

I am exhausted, no doubt about it. I come to class in a stupor. My mind is in distant lands. It’s not whole, that’s for sure. When I say whole, I’m referring to a mind that’s all together at one place at a time. Instead my thoughts drift in all sorts of directions, leaving me spacey and unenthused. Why unenthused? My ability to conjure passion for a subject and the idiosyncrasies it possesses are virtually nonexistent. Let me tell you, it is a daily struggle to pry myself from the grips of the web. I can watch my mental state degenerate as I log in time on the computer. At the beginning of the day I find myself refreshed. I usually stay away from the net as long as possible… but once I’m there… it begins. My mind, its quiet thoughts that usually dwell on solving important priorities in my life, are off tending to random information consumed through news feeds. The news itself is usually enlightening… for a moment. Once I bring in new enlightening information it flees and usually never returns. I never have an opportunity to synthesize it, make sense of it. I’m constantly barraging myself with multisensory distractions.

The shame in all this is that I was raised in a family that shunned electronic devices. No cable TV, 30 minutes a day on the internet. When I was living at home I had to make fun. It was great. Today, and when I say today I’m referring to my life at college, I am a pathetic party pooper. I didn’t start off this way. Oh no. Upon prepping for college I was a voracious reader, pumping out four books a month the year prior to landmark. I would write in my journal for hours at a time. I was motivated and focused. I taught myself coping mechanisms that I could bring to landmark. That was before the laptop came into my life. Once this happened, and I was very conscious of it the moment it entered, I lost all self control. It was a slow loss of control at first. It came with justifying my internet and web surfing usage bit by bit. Hey, everyone’s doing it. All the cool links that fill up you inbox from your friends. I felt like I was missing out.

I remember restraining myself from using the net. Turning off the wireless function, limiting myself to ONLY school related programs and sites. Bit by bit however I found myself delving into the horrific world of instant gratification. Stimulus and reward had crept into my life. It is a horrifying realization of course. At this point I’m graduating… and I am absolutely, 100% full of CONTEMPT for technology. It has ruined my ‘chi’. It has destroyed my spiritual peace of mind. I am no longer in the present, aware, and disciplined. I have been infected by a virus that seeks only new information… whatever interests me and rewards these impulses. My mind seeks these out and grows wary in most other stimulus inquiries. I say it’s a virus because it has grown worse and worse, almost ravaging me, and now I can say I am a participant that drags other fresh untainted minds into the realm of stimulus/ information consumption.

I HAVE tried ridding myself of this virus. I have planned and allotted time for quality reading and thinking. I do journal. I do seek peace on walks and reflections on nature. But, alas, I find myself in front of the computer at the end of the day, checking emails, and there they are- more distractions, links and stimulus. I hate it. Nay, I loath it.

As some one with ADHD… I NEED control. I CRAVE it. I have accepted that I cannot necessarily control the way I learn, so I adapt and learn to control other factors. I create novel ways with learning. I choose my environments wisely. These actions offer me a control to work around myself. But nowadays, in my current state, I feel helpless. Out of control. My mind wanders to the technology and it it’s robbed and abused. The satisfaction is so temporary that it genuinely leaves me with no lasting feelings. I must feed off it.

The concentration element is another story. My concentration has been so corrupted that even my desire and goal to achieve meaningful tasks has grown into a heaping obstacle. This actually coincides with the communication aspect. Because my concentration has been so abused, my ability to initiate meaningful conversations has dwindled. How? People, unlike the web pages and images that plaster the internet landscape, have depth. This depth needs to be explored… and people do NOT readily present this information. Nope. You are required as a human to become genuinely interested and do some work at finding it. Digging it out. Communicating requires a certain level of interest where digging into that depth is achieved. In this way a connection can occur. Problem is, people don’t have links covering their body. They don’t advertise the interesting stuff. It’s buried deep within them. To get it out, you must seek, dig, and poke around. You must concentrate, use some working memory, make connections and discover them.

ALAS, people in this era have lost the patience for such an art. Book reading is the same way. Books are long, with complex plots. They require an interest and concentration that allows you to dig up and make associations. Articles on the web, short summaries, twitters, wall posts and status updates hardly required this level of thought. It goes in and just as fast as it goes it, it leaves.

So, would I agree with Simpson? Hell yes. She is on the money.

Do I think this multitasking trend is a good thing? Nope.  But I could argue the other way as well. In terms of health, absolutely not. In terms of adapting to the cultural trends, of course it’s a good thing. How would you survive in today’s fast paced, information crunching culture?!

But our minds, bodies and spirits have not evolved with these trends. We need quiet contemplation. It rocks my world this non-stop stimulation. It’s not even physically taxing. Simply mundane. It adds no REAL value to my life. Networking online with other virtually faceless profiles is an unfulfilling practice. We are only furthering a narcissistic urge to advertise our uniqueness to the populace. LOOK AT ME! LOOK AT ALL THE FUN I HAVE! MY COOL QUOTES! MY AWESOME PICTURES! LOOK WHAT IT CONNOTES! DENOTES!

The truth is… it is not bringing us closer to our goals… UNLESS that goal is to flatter ourselves. Swear to God. What the hell are these networking sites for anyway? To get ourselves out to the world!?? ‘Look at me!’ we say with our profiles, ‘I am special and unique and bring value!’ The HUGE problem is, I find that most people, including myself, put MORE time into the networking aspect, than to the value they are trying to project.

How a person spends every second of their day defines who they are. If we got real with ourselves, we’d realize we spend diddly-squat time reading and doing the things we advertise as our passions when we COMPARE the time we spend on technology. Compare the time people spend leisurely listening on their IPODS to music to actually making music. Or the people who browse art ALL day long on the internet, but how many hours a day do they spend painting? COUNTLESS other examples…

I can’t imagine all the damage we’re doing to ourselves.

In the end its all about perspective. I’m not really convinced this technology revolution will aid in the overall health of those involved. I believe in simplicity. Mathematics, physics, and all other great sciences, depend on simplicity. I believe, in our life, we need it. A life with focus is a life with direction. What focus can people say they have? Perhaps this whole trend of multitasking is a focus itself…

********

(I wrote this personal journal entry in January as a natural response to my own ruminations about the effects of the internet:

I’ve been wrestling lately. With thoughts. I’m wondering if the Internet is a bad or good thing. Most of my free time is spent reading blogs, e-mailing, watching videos, reading the news, checking updates or just plain surfing. I find that traditional reading has become more of a chore than it used to be.

It’s sad to think that’d I’d prefer to e-mail or message someone instead of call them on the phone. Catching up is done online. Catching up and conversing over a cup of coffee is almost unnecessary. I almost need something to do, like an activity or event to make our time a worthwhile experience. It seems like a waste of time when it’s all been said. After all the updates are read and all the blogs are perused, what else is there?

This is not a new thought or debate by any means. I feel that as much as this technology has made it easier and brought us together, I feel that we’re grown more alienated and impersonal than ever before. Even now I express these thoughts electronically, publicly.

I have a hard time remembering when certain people really knew me. When our relationship was something special and unique. That only a handful of people had the opportunity of knowing my day to day thoughts. I’ve become so transparent I feel lost. Where is the fidelity of a deep friendship?

Maybe this is a temporary feeling. I don’t know. I suppose I’m speaking to a very niche crowd. I know there are many nonconformists who live free of the networking hassle.

**********